What’s The Problem Now?

Camp Is Connection

Relationships form the heart of the camp experience. Dynamic programs, beautiful settings and lofty missions have little value without sterling leadership (staff/camper relationships) and warm friendships (camper/camper relationships). For this reason, a well-trained staff that promotes camper connections is the lifeblood sustaining your camp. In turn, having happy campers in healthy relationships augments retention rates, enrollment and parental satisfaction, all of which strengthen the overall business and pleasure of running a camp.

Today’s Training Angles

Contemporary approaches to staff training include designing a curriculum around the following tactics:

1.Accreditation standards

2.Staff-training manuals and camp-management books

3.Camper and parent satisfaction questionnaires and exit surveys

4.Camp mission and stated outcomes

5.Professional development of the camp director

6.An internal leadership program

7.Pre-camp and Web-based staff training

Each training approach has merit, and two or more can be combined to produce excellent results. To this master list, we recommend an eighth tactic–focus on emerging issues. This approach uses data from the American Camp Association’s Emerging Issues Survey in November 2007.

A brief selection of results below summarizes the most pressing camper and staff behavior problems, as well as the newest additions directors are adding to staff-training curricula. Taken together, this information will help reshape or refine your existing approach to staff training. Reducing the frequency of problematic camper and staff behaviors requires a direct, honest, intentional approach. If you think “not at my camp” in response to some items in Tables 1-3, we encourage you to take a proactive training stance to reduce the likelihood that these problems do not become your own.

Camper Behavior Problems

Two questions on the survey explored directors’ perceptions of camper and staff behaviors:

· During the past three years, what are the two most serious problem behaviors of CAMPERS?

· During the past three years, what are the two most serious problem behaviors of STAFF?

A glance at Table 1 shows externalizing behaviors (violent, aggressive, antisocial) topping the list. If these data are one source for designing your staff-training syllabus for the 2009 summer, you must include some workshops on bullying prevention and conflict resolution. It is also wise to review your policies on major rule violations. For example, what are the consequences for physical fighting, destruction of camp property and cell phone use? Although use among campers is rare, what is your policy about drug, alcohol and tobacco possession?

One advantage of using these data for staff training is the assurance you’re addressing the most pernicious camper behavior problems. But don’t simply focus on the items ranked here according to percentage. Any seasoned staff member will tell you that a single case of severe homesickness or severe ADHD can ruin a child’s stay, and taint the camp experience for the rest of the group. The best training program will endow staff with tools for dealing with both common and uncommon problems. Training in CPR is the obvious medical analogy of this principle.

We recommend role-playing as one of the best ways to give staff practice in dealing with all types of camper behavior problems. Staff members will hone skills, generate discussion, and gain confidence prior to opening day. Online modules can give staff excellent preparation prior to training week, thus allowing you to cover core topics in depth once all the staff has gathered at camp.

Table 1: Most Frequently Identified Camper Behavior Problems

Top Camper Behavior Problems in 2007 Season

% of Camp Directors Identifying Problem (n=275 responses)

Bullying / fighting / physical aggression — 32%

Disrespectful behavior or language / tantrums / anger — 20%

Rule violations (antisocial behavior, destroying property, sneaking cell phone) — 12%

Inappropriate intimate behavior or sexual talk — 7%

Cutting / self-injurious behavior / para-suicidal behavior — 4%

Parents withholding critical information about campers — 4%

Cliques / social aggression — 3%

Homesickness — 3%

Use of drugs, such as marijuana — 2%

Special needs, especially autistic spectrum behaviors — 2%

PTSD or history of abuse — 2%

Eating disorders — 2%

Medication-related complications — 2%

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